Imagine the scene at police HQ and Crown Law: Justice Binnie has done the unthinkable; he's written an independent report. Worse, he's damned Crown Law and Police to hell.
The Government response has been masterful ... but hardly justice.
Step one: Sit on report. This must not get out until we are good and ready. Step two: Commission a critical review. From one of our guys. Keep this secret. The review will provide the necessary smoke when Binnie's report finally is released. Step three: Get Judith "Crusher" Collins to rip into Binnie ahead of his report's release. That will put half the population on side. It's their party in power. Plus, the Minister's condemnation, rather than the report, will become the story.
Step four: Commission a new, independent report. One that will provide more agreeable conclusions.
That hardball from our justice system has worked for 18 years.
I am among the many who had always thought David Bain guilty. I took media reports at the time as true. And I thought a grown man with a paper run - and wearing that woolly jumper - the type more than capable of murdering his entire family. I was innocent back then, too. I hadn't seen up close how the New Zealand police hierarchy behaves when backed into a tight corner. And I hadn't seen Crown Law stick to their guns arguing against all reason and clear facts. I didn't know then how the police play the media and how the public respect for the justice system is abused by those charged to uphold it.
But still, until a week ago, I would have said to anyone who asked that Bain was guilty. Not now. Not on the balance of probabilities.
I was disturbed the Government ripped into a respected former judge who, just a year ago, the same Government lauded as perfect for the job. It made me suspicious that the Government was still refusing to release Justice Binnie's report. I also believed it wasn't playing by the very rules the same Government had set.
The Government established the Binnie review. The very point of an independent review is that it's independent of government and should be accepted as such. A critical report will never be comfortable for a government because it's against the government and strikes at the very heart of it - its ability to dispense justice.
The Government could choose to ignore Binnie's recommendation for compensation but then proper, considered reasons would be expected to be given.
Collins' criticisms sparked my interest to read the reports. Previously, I had relied only on media reports of the Bain case.
I started with the Fisher critique. I thought it would be most efficient to read the Binnie report armed with what was thought to be wrong with it. I am far from a legal beagle but I found Fisher's report laboured and working altogether too hard to find fault. I wasn't convinced by the critique even before I opened Binnie. It struck me - I hope this isn't offensive - as a lawyer's argument.
I then read Binnie. It's hard having a deeply held prejudice overturned. But I was entranced. It is beautifully written and clearly presented. But, more especially, here is the product of a fine mind critically cutting to the chase. Justice Binnie obviously has done the hard work. He's considered the many issues. He's weighed them, presented his conclusions with his reasoning and the evidence. He's done the job asked of him.
If anything, he was scrupulously polite about the New Zealand police and justice system. Wherever possible he gave them the benefit of the doubt and never questioned their motivation.
But police evidence presented at the first trial was false and misleading. That's why the Privy Council declared Bain's trial a "substantial miscarriage of justice" and ordered a retrial.
Justice Binnie - and the Privy Council - raise a disturbing question about whether our justice system has the ability to self-correct. The Government's response, sadly for us, provides the answer, loud and clear.
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